Thursday, April 17, 2008

Additional thoughts from VT Anniversary

I cannot leave the Virginia Tech anniversary without some additional thoughts about healing America's violence. In doing so, I would challenge my own faith family--Church of God, Anderson--to adjust its attitude and confront violence across the board.

Freedom Park is a tourist attraction in our city. There, along the River Walk, people discover a larger-than-life sculpting--28 feet by 14 feet. This magnificent creation depicts Erastus Hussey, an early Quaker who took charge of the local Underground Railroad. Hussey risked his life leading some of the estimated 40-50,000 slaves on the freedom train.

During that time, Isabelle Baumfrey fled from slavery--a young single mother. Later, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth. When she moved to our city, she became the first person to bring national recognition to a community now known as The Cereal City. Baumfrey’s name change reflected her journey from slavery to holiness preacher, as she called people to live like Jesus, rallied abolitionists, and advocated for women’s rights.

Current activist--minister Bobby Holley--protested violence by crawling ten miles on his hands and knees, to our County Seat. If he is right, and I believe he is, we need to unmask this bad bargain we call violence.

If violence is acceptable behavior, Birmingham authorities had every right to keep Martin Luther King in jail, and America had no right to overthrow and assassinate Saddam Hussein. If violence is socially acceptable street behavior, we have no reason to protect our urban and rural neighborhoods from street gangs.

If violent behavior is justifiable, we had no justification for stopping Adolph Hitler or putting a price on Osama bin laden. If political violence is acceptable, we have no reason to criticize the Holocaust, and no reason to grieve the numerous police officers sacrificed in the line of duty across our nation.

IF violence is unacceptable behavior, we need to discover as many factors as possible that went into converting a local African American youth that teachers said was a “good adolescent student” into the youthful murderer of a local police officer. If violent behavior is unacceptable, we citizens need to renew ourselves, improve our manners, and learn better communication skills.

Whether language is nasty, vulgar, violent or simply bigoted, Yale Law Professor Stephen Carter believes it contributes nothing of encouragement to thoughtful and reasoned response. It does spark anger and shame, and it diminishes dialogue with one another. This further hinders our democratic processes,1 and I believe it must become a personal issue, because it is a moral issue.

Stopping violence begins with conversation! Healing violence calls for us to improve our manners and our civil behavior. It requires us to develop moral relationships and to live ethically. It demands that we make room for each other--by intent. As it now stands, we remain radically individualistic--even lawless--people that believe laws are for everyone but us.

Healing violence calls radical change: intentionally staying within the law--turning down the car stereo--and staying within the speed limit. Reducing violence calls for correcting our behavior--without waiting for Law Enforcement--and refusing to excuse our own “foibles.” As Daniel Webster once quipped, “Let us not be pygmies in a case that calls for men.”

Healing violence calls for new diplomatic policies that avoid the ultimate of violence--war, as discussed in my previous blog. Before global communities can enjoy a non-violent socio-political peace, we must experience an attitude adjustment and begin with renewed intentionality to develop peaceful relationships.

Peacemakers view war as an extension of violence, the ultimate anti-social behavior that profits from blood sacrifice on an altar of patriotism. Peacemakers work at overcoming evil with good, by the use of non-violent behavior. Peacemakers explore peaceful relationships that provide positive options that replace force, inequality, greed, lust for power, revenge and hate.

The Peacemakers I know take their cue from the Biblical prophet who declared: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NIV).

I would challenge my own faith community to remove the muzzle from Jesus and begin applying his application of that ethnic outcaste we call the Good Samaritan. He assisted a mugging victim, at the risk of his own person and possessions. Jesus cited his behavior as exemplary and told his disciples [that’s us] to “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37).

Neighborliness encourages thinking and acting outside our local and global social fences of “hatred, discord, jealousy. . .selfish ambition. . .factions and envy” (Gal. 5:20-21). The one word that meets the criteria, declared Saint Paul, is that word from Jesus: “love your neighbor as yourself.

Only an attitude adjustment can bridge our barriers, improve our relationships, overcome our hostilities, and launch new friendships. By bridging our barriers of selfishness and greed, we contribute to the creation of new opportunities for a peace-filled tomorrow.

Do we dare to each one contribute our part to making tomorrow a place where everyone enjoys equal access to peace and life in abundance?
1 Stephen L. Carter, Civility Manners Morals and the Etiquette of Democracy. (New York: Basic Books, 1998.)

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